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What is the Chickenpox Virus?

Article Details
  • Written By: Mandi R. Hall
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 11 February 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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Chickenpox is an infection caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV). It is recognized by the small red blisters and overall rash covering one’s body. Chickenpox is often described as an annoying disease more than a dangerous one. The chickenpox virus itself is one of the eight strains of human herpes viruses, a part of the Herpesviridae DNA family. Highly contagious, the varicella zoster virus is spread easily.

Chickenpox can be transmitted in a few different ways. If a previously uninfected person physically touches the rash itself, he will likely catch the infection. The chickenpox virus can also be transmitted after the infected party breathes, sneezes, or coughs near someone. Tiny globules of mucus or saliva can travel through the air a few feet before landing on someone else. A few days later, that person may break out in the rash.

A person may be infected for a few days before he’s aware he has the virus. A rash in the form of red, watery blisters appears on the face, head, chest, neck, and back. The limbs are also often affected. These blisters are plentiful — the mildest cases may have less than 50. At times, the chickenpox virus can cause painful blisters in the mouth, throat, vagina, rectum, or elsewhere.

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A headache and stomachache may accompany the rash. After approximately a week, the scabs turn crusty. The chickenpox virus is no longer contagious once all of the blisters have completely scabbed over. It is important to note that if the eyes become severely infected with pox, a doctor’s visit is necessary. When making a doctor’s appointment, keep the infected party away from others to reduce additional infection.

Chickenpox affects kids more often than adults. This is because kids are often in closer proximity with one another at school or on the playground. Most adults have been infected with the virus at a younger age and are immune to it later in life. Although second cases have been recorded, the chickenpox virus typically occurs only once in each human.

Adults, particularly pregnant females, experience more daunting bouts with chickenpox. The blisters typically cause more scarring and the pain can be more intense. Those with weakened immune systems are also at risk for a dangerous case of chickenpox. Additionally, there is an approximately 20 percent chance that persons who have previously had chickenpox will have shingles later on in life. Shingles is a more adult form of the same VZV virus, which remains dormant in the body after the initial chickenpox infection.

There is a chickenpox virus vaccine available. The varicella vaccination is not 100 percent effective in preventing chickenpox, but is known to be quite successful. The two-dose vaccine is typically given to toddlers and then again a few years later.

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